the last books of the concentration camp survivors

There are fewer and fewer survivors of the concentration camps of World War II. Each new testimonial published could be the last. That of Léon Placek, 89, I was 10 years old in Bergen-Belsen was released on May 5.

Any book by concentration camp survivors today could become the last published and extinguish a strong lineage of dozens of titles. I was 10 years old in Bergen-Belsen by Léon Placek (Cherche Midi editions) was released on May 5. This testimony would never have existed if the deportee had not given in to the insistence of one of his children. “He harassed me for two weeks! I relented,” he told AFP.

Surprisingly today, this 89-year-old Parisian, a CPA who still practices at Placek & Epelbaum, spoke of his time in the camp, which saw little Amsterdam Jew Anne Frank die, as little as possible her children. and never to others.

The story, written with the journalist Philippe Legrand, reminds us that the survivors of the camps were not encouraged to testify, far from it. after the war, “we are like strangers, returned from a world from which we usually do not return”, recalls Leon Placek in his book. “I hesitated for a long time to break this silence. (…) My word? So that! Will she carry this word? What was she going to be able to say?

indifference, misunderstanding

As the academic Dominique Moncond’huy reminds us in his introduction to The human race and other writings of the fields (Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 2021), some of these testimonies have met indifference, even misunderstanding. “Nothing, without a doubt, could be more violent for the survivors, in the discomfort of a return among the living from whom an irreducible distance separated them, than verifying that their voice was not heard”, writes this professor of literature.

The trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961, the movies sadness and pity in 1969 and Holocaust in 1985, or books like writing or life by Jorge Semprún in 1994 brought out of oblivion the experience of the concentration camp where the collective memory wanted to bury it.

Like others, Léon Placek was taken to tell university or high school students about his youth marked by the Nazi extermination of the Jews. It was a step, before I could put the memories of him on paper.

Also passed through Bergen-Belsen after Ravensbrück, Lili Keller-Rosenberg is 88 years old when she publishes in April 2021 And we came back alone (Plon). The survivor recalls in her book that her first story in front of students dates back to 1983. It took her more than 35 years to try to publish it. “We are no longer numerous, the deportees. In Hauts-de-France, I am the last survivor who can still testify.” she points to the end of the book.

“I don’t sleep anymore”

Génia Oboeuf, who survived Ravensbrück, died at the age of 98 before she could see the publication of Genie and Aime (her husband’s first name). She will be in bookstores on May 17, in Alisio editions, a year after her death.

As for Julia Wallach, who returned from Auschwitz-Birkenau, she waited until she was 96 before publishing, in November, God was on vacation (Grasset), co-written with Paulina Guena . He was at the end of April on the set of the great bookstorethe literary program of France 5, together with Joseph Weismann, 90 years old, who recounted in the comic strip his escape from the Beaune-la-Rolande camp after the raid (Les Arènes), published in January. “Even saying it now, it’s hard for me,” she confessed in her clear voice. “Arrival in Birkenau! Until now, I still have the screams in my ears.”.

Léon Placek read many of these works. “I have a whole library from that period. But I didn’t want to write a book. For 50 years, it was in memory, far, far, far… Ever since I wrote this book, I no longer sleep”. These post-war decades, he passes quickly. “We are released, and it’s over: we move on. We are lucky to be back! So you have to forget about that.” he decides. “We tell ourselves: why bother people? Why create problems? It’s useless. But we are not eternal. My son Marc must have thought that something had to remain.


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